If there’s one thing you need Tom Hanks to tell you, except how to survive the worst plane crash ever, let it be how ignoring your diabetes symptoms is total idiocy. The Oscar winner admits he got diabetes because he was a “total idiot” about his diet. We hope you aren’t ignoring these vital symptoms of diabetes like:
- Frequent urination, especially at night, a condition known as nocturia
- Genital itchiness or thrush, a yeast infection
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Weight loss
- Slow wound healing
- Blurred vision, eventually leading to vision loss
Read on to know more about diabetes, its types, and its symptoms.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the blood glucose levels remain high because the cells cannot absorb glucose either because of zero or insufficient production of insulin or because of the inability of the insulin to aid glucose absorption. Depending on which of these factors is leading to the raised blood glucose levels, diabetes can be categorized into type 1 and type 2.
But first, a brief step-by-step refresher on how glucose is metabolized in the body and how that is disrupted when you have diabetes.
What Happens When You Don’t Have Diabetes?
- The carbohydrates, sugars, and some milk and dairy products you eat break down into glucose in the stomach. Glucose is then released into your bloodstream. The amount of glucose present in your blood at any given point of time is what doctors refer to as your blood glucose level.
- Some of the glucose is immediately absorbed by your liver cells to be converted into glycogen, which acts as a reserve source of energy for times when the glucose levels are low.
- As your body starts sensing a rise in the blood glucose levels, your pancreas produces the hormone insulin. Insulin binds with the receptors on the muscle and fat cell membranes to let the glucose pass into the cells where it is then burned to release energy.1 When you don’t have diabetes, your insulin levels are optimum, and so glucose metabolism and energy release happen smoothly.
What Happens When You Have Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, your fasting glucose level is over 126 mg/dl and over 200 mg/dl two hours after a meal.
- Your blood glucose naturally rises after you’ve eaten a meal. But if your body does not produce insulin or produces it in insufficient quantities, the glucose level will remain high. If the glucose level exceeds 140 mg/dl two hours after a meal, you’d be diagnosed as a prediabetic, and if it’s over 200 mg/dl, you are diabetic.
- But even in times when you are fasting, to make up for the low levels, your liver releases some glucose. However, if this blood glucose level after eight hours of fasting is more than 108 mg/dl, you are a pre-diabetic, and if it exceeds 126 mg/dl, you have diabetes.
Teenagers, especially boys, are more often diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes affects about 5 to 10 percent of the diabetic population, especially people under 30, sometimes even beginning before one turns 15, which is why it is also called juvenile diabetes. It has also been found to affect more boys than girls.2
In this chronic autoimmune condition, often genetically inherited, the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, glucose cannot enter the cells and accumulates in the blood, exceeding the normal level.
90 out of 100 diabetics suffer from Type 2, and they are mostly above 40.
Type 2 diabetes is way more common, accounting for about 90 percent of all incidences of diabetes, and mostly shows symptoms in people above 40, which gives it the name adult-onset diabetes.
In this condition, either the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or the cells develop a resistance to insulin, not allowing it to bind to the receptor molecules on the cell membrane that would allow the passage of glucose inside the cell.
Obesity, especially visceral fat, can inhibit the cells’ ability to bind to the insulin. And because active muscles use up most of the glucose in the body, physical inactivity that leads to less vigorous use of muscles also makes the cells resistant to glucose intake.
Not every high-glucose condition, however, is a serious case of diabetes. It is common to have raised blood glucose levels in the third trimester of pregnancy. This condition called gestational diabetes can sometimes lead to type 2 diabetes, not always. The key to avoid this is staying active with exercises suitable for pregnant women.
Why Do The Symptoms of Diabetes Occur?
Type 1 diabetes symptoms show up within weeks, but type 2 symptoms may take years.
The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar because the end result of both is high blood glucose levels, also called hyperglycemia.3 While the symptoms show up rapidly in type 1 patients, it may take years before the type 2 patients become aware of their condition.
1. Frequent Urination
Because the cells in your body cannot absorb the glucose, your kidneys try to remove as much glucose as possible. As a result, you take more pee breaks than a normal person would and pass more than 5 liters of urine a day. This carries on even in the night, making you wake up a number of times to pass urine. This condition is known as nocturia. Eventually, this will take a toll on your kidneys.
2. Genital Irritation And Thrush
The high glucose content in the urine makes the genital area ideal for thrush and consequently leads to swelling and itching.
Thanks to the loss of water from the body because of frequent urination, you feel thirsty and need a lot of water to make up for the loss.
4. Fatigue And Lethargy
As the cells cannot absorb glucose, they cannot produce any energy either, making you feel easily worn out.
5. Weight Loss
When the body cannot burn the glucose, it starts burning its fat reserve and muscles, triggering weight loss and loss of muscle bulk.4
6. Slow Wound Healing
Diabetes reduces the number and efficiency of endothelial progenitor cells or EPCs, which travel to the sites of injury and help form blood vessels and heal the wounds.5
7. Blurred Vision Or Even Vision Loss
The rising blood glucose causes the lens to pull in water from the body and swell. This change in lens shape affects the eye’s ability to focus. This can be reversed with diabetes medicines.
But as the blood vessels in the retina become weak and thin after years of hyperglycemia and bulge out in pouches called micro-aneurysms, they release a fatty protein called exudate. When the exudate leaks into the center of the retina, vision damage is permanent.6
Can You Manage Diabetes?
Diabetes is not curable, but it certainly is manageable. While type 2 can be managed by a good low-glucose, low-fat diet and regular exercise, along with medicines, type 1 can be managed with regular insulin injections.
Type 1 patients, however, need to be extra-cautious to avoid situations where the blood glucose level falls below normal, leading to hypoglycemia, which, if severe, can even lead to convulsions and fainting.
Beware Of Diabetic Ketoacidosis
If you are showing symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, you are most likely suffering from type 1 diabetes.
There is also a stronger risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a medical emergency, in type 1 patients than in type 2 patients. This condition arises when there is a lack of glucose, the fatty acids and proteins that are broken down to release energy end up producing acidic ketone bodies. When the ketone levels in blood and urine increase beyond normal, the blood turns acidic. The symptoms of DKA may be the first clue to the fact that one is suffering from type 1 diabetes.
If you see these symptoms developing or worsening over a 24-hour period, see a doctor:
- Appetite loss
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- High temperature
- Decline in alertness
- Muscle stiffness and cramps
Stay Alert And Go For Check-Ups
Don’t take any risks. Assess your symptoms and go for a test. The right diagnosis in time can save you years of your life. Be vigilant, eat healthy, and stay active, and you are sorted.
|↑1||Bowen, R. Physiologic Effects of Insulin.|
|↑2||Östman, J., Göran Lönnberg, H. J. Arnqvist, G. Blohme, J. Bolinder, A. Ekbom Schnell, J. W. Eriksson, S. Gudbjörnsdottir, Göran Sundkvist, and Lennarth Nyström. “Gender differences and temporal variation in the incidence of type 1 diabetes: results of 8012 cases in the nationwide Diabetes Incidence Study in Sweden 1983–2002.”Journal of internal medicine 263, no. 4 (2008): 386-394.|
|↑3||What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Diabetes? Diabetes UK.|
|↑4||Unexplained Weight Loss. Diabetes.co.uk|
|↑5||Gallagher, Katherine A., Zhao-Jun Liu, Min Xiao, Haiying Chen, Lee J. Goldstein, Donald G. Buerk, April Nedeau, Stephen R. Thom, and Omaida C. Velazquez. “Diabetic impairments in NO-mediated endothelial progenitor cell mobilization and homing are reversed by hyperoxia and SDF-1α.” The Journal of clinical investigation 117, no. 5 (2007): 1249-1259.|
|↑6||Eye Damage With Diabetes. GroupHealth|